Before becoming synonymous with the LGBT movement, the rainbow flag represented multiracialism. As recent as the 1980’s Jesse Jackson was using it as a campaign symbol. The shift over to being “gay” happened in the early 90’s when a corporate advertising executive and activist Gilbert Baker turned it into a flag, appropriating it for the gay rights movement.
Baker himself still acknowledged the prior meaning of the rainbow, explaining that his intent was to design a symbol that represented and celebrated the pluralism and diversity of American society. But, it’s interesting that despite the flag’s creator ostensibly acknowledging the continued importance of racial diversity, the flag has come to be almost wholly defined as an LGBT symbol.
Which makes sense, considering that the flag is consistently most popular in areas with a distinct lack of racial diversity: gentrified neighborhoods, tech hubs (no brown diversity, anyway), white liberal enclaves, Episcopal churches, etc. It’s almost like the flag serves as a way for whites to have their cake and eat it too: to support “diversity” in the broad sense, but only the least intimidating kind imaginable.
Another aspect of the flag and the broader movement it represents is its indelible connection to consumerism. As already stated, the flag was designed by a corporate ad executive. And there are probably few places LGBT symbolism is more prominent than a Fortune 500 corporation. LGBT ethos lends itself very well to themes of individualism and authenticity which are very prominent in corporate advertising. It’s one thing to be black: racial identities are lived and experienced passively, by default. It takes no positive effort, in other words, to have a racial identity, something imposed by biology.
But to be “gay,” in the truest sense, is to “come out.” One has to affirm his gayness. There’s an aspect of radical choice and construction of one’s identity. Corporate ethos is all about choice. So, of course LGBT themes fit nicely into their advertising – and that’s not even mentioning the disproportionately upscale profile of self-identified homosexuals.
-By Grant Madison
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.